Candice and Matthew Bradby have had to call on their faith a lot since their 12-year-old son, Dylan, was diagnosed with cancer on Labor Day. Over and over, they’ve asked God, “Why Dylan?” As the months have gone by, they’ve started to realize that maybe it’s to give Dylan, “the CEO of underdogs,” a platform.
Count Ravens safety Geno Stone — the NFL’s surprise leader in interceptions — among those who have been championed by the preteen. On Nov. 7, Stone received a video through X, formerly known as Twitter, from Dylan encouraging Stone to make 12 more interceptions.
“You inspired me to keep fighting because I know your story,” Dylan said on X. “You got cut from the Ravens two times, and you kept fighting, and you’re back on the team now. … I’ve been seeing you’re leading the NFL in interceptions. Can you get one more for me on Sunday? I predict you’re getting 12 more interceptions this season.”
Stone was touched by the message and sent Dylan a package with a Ravens flag, a wristband, a beanie, football gloves and an autographed football with a personalized message. The day Dylan got it, he wasn’t feeling well, so his excitement wasn’t apparent, Candice said. But, once he felt better, it kicked in and he started talking about where he’ll wear everything.
“I appreciate him being a big fan of mine and noticing my story,” Stone said. “And now I noticed his story so hopefully whenever he’s healthy enough we can meet soon and be able to interact more.”
And, hopefully, he’ll get those 12 picks for Dylan, he said with a laugh. That would have him finishing with 18 in a season, four more than the NFL record.
“I’ll be extremely blessed [if that happens], and [I’m] thankful he said that,” Stone said with a laugh. “I’m big on manifesting it.”
Dylan, who grew up in Baltimore County, made the video from a bed at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he’s been hospitalized with an infection. Over the past three months, he’s been undergoing aggressive chemotherapy. When he caught an infection in his stomach, his white blood cell count was too low to fight it.
In his video, Dylan briefly told the story of a Labor Day gone horribly wrong. He woke up the day after a pool party with chest pains. Thinking it was his asthma, his mom told him to use his steroid pump. It didn’t help because the problem wasn’t that he couldn’t breathe but that it was painful to do so.
Candice’s “Spidey mom senses” went off. She decided to take him to the emergency room rather than an urgent care. When doctors took an X-ray, they found a giant mass in his chest.
Matthew was picking up Dylan’s football uniform for the season when he got Candice’s call.
“It just took me to my knees,” Matthew said. He had just paid for the uniforms for Dylan’s season, and one phone call wiped out those plans. He rushed to meet his family.
The emergency room transferred Dylan to Johns Hopkins, where he underwent tests. The doctors were being vague, not saying the word cancer. But Candice, a breast cancer survivor, had a feeling. Sure enough, when the results came in, they told them Dylan had T-lymphoblastic lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“This is much harder,” Candice said. “Pulling more on my faith and my motherly strength than I ever have ever.”
The cancer is extremely aggressive, calling for nine months of intense chemo. The good news? Doctors say it was caught early enough that the family feels hopeful Dylan will be on the winning side.
Candice and Dylan have bonded over their similar battles. She wants to be there for him every hour, but as the main provider for the family, she has to continue working. She drives for Uber, so she shifted her hours to early mornings and late nights when Dylan is sleeping.
Matthew, who was recently laid off, stays by Dylan’s side. The news that he was laid off was extremely scary for the family, Candice said, but it’s turned into a blessing because Dylan doesn’t have to be alone.
Cancer is not day-by-day survival but hour-by-hour, Candice said. Dylan can go from dancing and singing to extremely listless in a snap. Through the pain, Matthew has helped keep Dylan distracted watching their favorite teams, the top of the list being the Ravens, learning about wrestling and keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One day, they heard someone was giving out manis and pedis to the parents, and they decided to switch up their routine. They got to talking with one of the organizers, who is the executive director of the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation — named for a University of Maryland student who was battling cancer when a picture of him flexing his arms during treatment went viral. When Felicia Fleming found out Dylan is a big Ravens fan, she asked him, “How would you like to go to a game this year?”
“He immediately said yes,” Fleming said in an email.
Through its Give Me A Break From Cancer program, the nonprofit found tickets to the New Year’s Eve game at M&T Bank Stadium against the Miami Dolphins, another one of Dylan’s favorite teams.
“Fingers crossed and prayers that he’s healthy enough to be there,” Matthew said.
Through this experience, Dylan has been watching, observing. He’s noticed the struggles of the families around him and the support his own family has gotten. Although his GoFundMe page is far from reaching its goal, he’s already talking about creating a foundation of his own, Dylan 33, to help families going through similar struggles.
In a positive development, Dylan has been released from the hospital following the complications from the infection.
But he still needs to get through chemotherapy, which will hopefully wrap up before his 13th birthday in June. Then, he’s determined to make his way back onto the football field, where he plays defensive end, linebacker and fullback.
“[I’m most proud of] just his toughness, his strength,” Candice said. “He’ll tell you in a heartbeat he’ll overcome this. He’s going to be fine and play football again. That’s not a question in his brain.”